By Jim McElhatton (Photo/Susan Hale Thomas)
Taiwan’s national boxing coach, Ko Wen Ming, always brings his camera along when he jogs through Alexandria.
He’s amazed by the architecture and the painted colors of the city. He likes the blues, reds and oranges and thinks to himself that one day, perhaps, he’d like to build a house back home in Taiwan like those he sees in the Port City.
For now though, he’s in town building something else: Olympic contenders.
Under Ko, the Taiwan national youth boxing team has been training at the Alexandria Boxing Gym for the past three weeks, a gym rich in talent. It is home to amateur youth boxing champions like Troy Isley and Iesha Kenney, as well as professional fighter Antoine “Action” Douglas, who is 14-0 and headlining a fight on Showtime on July 25.
“We communicate with them a little bit by language but mostly by actions,” Douglas said. “We joke around. We’re getting along great.”
Still, for a group of young fighters from Taiwan in their teens, stepping foot in the gym run by local trainer Dennis Porter might seem a little intimidating at first. But Ko said everyone in the place has been welcoming.
“The training here is very different,” Ko said, with local boxer and Taiwan team member Dara Shen acting as interpreter. “The style here is very passionate. So you see that in all of the training and sparring.”
The youth team wasn’t supposed to come to the Porty City. They had been headed to train at the U.S. Olympic facility in Colorado Springs, but learned it was booked up and there was no room left. Shen then arranged for the team to come to where she trains in Alexandria instead.
The Americans and Taiwanese fighters aren’t trying to change each other’s styles during the one-month joint training camp. But they say the mere fact of being exposed to different boxing strategies can only help them in the ring.
There’s no talk here of one style being better than another, but rather of an appreciation for the diversity of the sport.
“They come here not to change but to add to their repertoire,” said Shen, who has dual citizenship and won gold in the U.S. National Championships earlier this year.
There are four fighters from Taiwan here training — two boys (Po Wei Tu and Shao Hui He) and two girls (Nien Chin Chen and Hsiao Wen Huang) — but each has his or her own training partner, too.
The 17-year-old Chen has only been boxing since age 14, but she’s already made a name for herself, claiming the country’s first gold in an international competition last year. The China Post, the first English-language newspaper in Taiwan, noted her “speed and explosive force.”
“It’s different here, but I’m learning a lot,” said Chen.
Ron Simms, a longtime boxing trainer who has been helping the visitors, said the American and Taiwanese styles are markedly different. He added the American fighters could learn a thing or two from the visiting boxers, whose discipline and teamwork is on constant display.
The gym’s guests are set to leave town at the end of July, but Alexandria’s fighters will continue to keep an eye on how their onetime training partners on the other side of the world are faring, knowing that perhaps they played a small but important part in their eventual successes.
“The American style is more of [a] pro style,” Shen said. “But the new amateur rules are modeled after the pro style, so this exposure can only help them.”